Head’s Up: Traveling with Victorians

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Late last year a new book by Dr. John H. “Jack” White, Jr. (MU ’58) was published by the Indiana University Press.  Wet Britches and Muddy Boots: A History of Travel in Victorian America is noteworthy for many reasons, as the laudatory reviews now appearing make clear.

The book spans the millennia of human travel but focuses primarily on travel in the nineteenth century, when transportation was revolutionized by industrialization. It especially focuses on the experience of travel. What was it like to ride a stagecoach from one town to the next? Or travel by steamboat? What were roads like? Accommodations?  Food?  And how long did it take to travel distances we scarcely give a thought to today?

Jack has written the work as popular history; it is indeed highly readable and illustrated with a wide range of helpful and fascinating images. But it is also based on meticulous research. Jack, after all, retired as Senior Historian after a long curatorial career at the Smithsonian Institution in the Division of Transportation, Museum of History and Technology. His authority is well-established by a number of distinguished publications.

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We in Special Collections are especially delighted with the book because Jack is a loyal friend and supporter and because he did much of his research right here. Our collections are rich in primary resources for the nineteenth century, and transportation is a particularly strong area. We know how much time and effort Jack invested in research and writing. So we take special pride in his achievement.

Jack’s achievement is also an achievement for the former Head of Special Collections, Janet Stuckey, who supported, assisted, and (according to Jack) occasionally pushed him to the finish line. Jack is generously donating the profits from the book to the Miami University Libraries Janet Stuckey Fund, which supports acquisitions for Special Collections.

So it’s a win-win. And win. That last “win” is yours when you read the book.

Elizabeth Brice
Assistant Dean for Technical Services and
Head, Special Collections & Archives

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